Later, up in my room, I finally calmed down. I knew I shouldn’t have yelled at my father the way I did … and I was so grateful to him for what he was doing—for not telling the whole town that Gil was sick. I just knew how Gil would hate that, going to school and having everyone stare at him, having all the kids who ignored him suddenly acting like his best friends.
I’d already learned that kids have an enormous capacity for feeling guilty—and then for making public displays of their feelings. I remembered a year or so ago when the word got out that a little quiet kid named Chuck Vivian,[i] a kid no one paid any attention to, had nearly drowned in the Ohio River over the weekend. He was at home, recovering for a couple of days, and at lunch a bunch of kids were making huge greeting cards out of poster board for Chuck: GET WELL! WE MISS YOU, CHUCK! Bright reds and blues and yellows. Huge balloons and exclamation points and smiley faces. And nearly everyone signed the cards, sometimes writing very serious and emotional messages on them. We miss you so MUCH, Chuck! And We all love you, Chuck! And We’re so glad you aren’t dead, Chuck!
It all just seemed so fake to me. And when Chuck finally came back after a few days at home, they had an assembly for him, giving him the card, the band playing, cheerleaders romping around, his parents there weeping, Chuck looking puzzled. (He might have been thinking: What’s all this for? All I did was not drown?!?!) And out in the halls, everyone spoke to him, welcomed him back to school. Chuck was King for a Day (or two).
But after less than a week, he was once again nearly invisible. Just plain little old Chuck, whom everybody pretty much ignored. And everything at school went back to the way it had been.
I didn’t want Gil to have to go through all of that. He liked being anonymous, I know. So I was certain that he didn’t want to have to deal with any of that phoniness, either. If he ever found out what Father and I had done—and I hoped he never would—I thought he’d be grateful.
[i] Remember that Charles Vivian was the young man who drowned with Percy Bysshe Shelley in that boating accident in July 1822. Is Vickie aware that there may be a relationship between “Chuck Vivian” and the “Charlene Vivian” whose grave was in the local cemetery? The grave that Gil had found earlier? Or between these two Vivians and the one who drowned with Shelley? Or is Vickie just making up everything?!